Director Shawn Levy
Screenplay Matt Lieberman, Zak Penn
Starring Ryan Reynolds, Jodie Comer, Lil Rel Howery, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Joe Keery, Taika Waititi
It’s hard to adequately describe exactly how low my expectations for this action comedy were prior to walking into the theater. If it weren’t for my daughter, I may well have skipped it in its entirety. This would have been a big miss, though. So far, Free Guy is one of the best films we have experienced in the theater this year.
Directed by Levy, who helmed the Night at the Smithsonian series, and written by a couple of writers who have rather spotty records, this Reynolds vehicle delivers on spontaneously joyful moments that massively multiplayer online (MMO) games could appreciate, while those who care less about that type of world can still enjoy.
The premise: Guy (Reynolds) is a non-player character (NPC) for an MMO. In short, he’s one of the many figures who receive collateral damage when the real players (i.e. those with sunglasses) ravage through Free City in a Grand Theft Auto kind of world of shooting, robbing and other types of mayhem. Everyday though, he awakens with the same thought. Someone out there is just for him.
Then one day, a player (Comer) with ulterior motives crosses his path. Immediately he is changed. Things really pick up once he ends up with a pair of glasses.
The inside jokes run rampant through every scene. It’s the type of film that will need repeated viewings to take in everything. It’s got so many disparate things occurring throughout, it’s easy to imagine players of different skills interacting as the film rolls. One truly gets the feeling they’ve been dropped into a world that existed before they got here.
Several key aspects of the film feel like they should be pretty easy to predict. The basic premise of the story is familiar. There are several choices that fall off the beaten path to something a little more unique and really kind of sweet. Mix that with the often brutally self-aware comic tendencies of both Reynolds and his (unwitting) nemesis Antwan (Waititi), and we have an altogether unique experience that breaks out of the stagnant mode of most films based on the world of games, like Ready Player One or Pixels.
Does any of this reach beyond entertainment to some sort of commentary on the human condition? Possibly. It can’t be ruled out. There is enough cleverness to differentiate this film from its predecessors, like the way The Beatles’ H.E.L.P. distinguished pop music from everything that came before it. On one level, it’s infectious. On further study, it feels like something that breaks new ground.
Reynolds has been a performer of immense talent and charisma for going on two decades now. Sometimes he finds the right combination of sweetness and cutting humor, then other times it completely misses the mark. This is definitely one of the films that shows he knows where the talent lay. This is truly a film that is worth waiting through a pandemic to see on the big screen.
It will also be something worth watching at home for years to come.
(****1/2 out of *****)